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By and far, the most popular request we receive from athletes is to improve their climbing ability. This is probably the single most difficult and painful aspect of the sport (at least in my opinion), and many riders want to know what they can do to climb the hills better or at least climb with more ease. Let’s go over some tips and workouts you can apply to your overall program that may not allow you to ease the pain, but can shorten it:
- Weight – Simply stated, carry less weight, and climb faster. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Most athletes know this, but don’t realize how crucial it really is, especially on the longer climbs. Remember, all things being equal, you can actually improve your wattage per kilo at your lactate threshold (or any zone) by just losing weight. Here is a simple calculation:
Current- 300 watts at LT divided by a body weight of 81 kilos = 3.7 watts per kilogram
The “new, lighter” you - 300 watts at LT divided by a body weight of 76 kilos = 3.9 watts per kilogram
A significant improvement of 9%!
- Tempo - Climbing is about tempo, about rhythm. It’s about being smooth, with no wasted energy. It’s about being relaxed with your upper body on the bike and using the complete pedal stroke. When teaching climbing technique, I like to have athletes literally count 1-2-3-4 as they climb in and out of the saddle. Learn to tempo.
- Sitting versus standing – Everyone has his or her own technique. Sitting conserves more energy, and standing can be used to accelerate when the pace slows. It’s good to have workouts that emphasize both, since you will experience both situations in a race.
- Switch backed climbs – Try to stay on the shallow side of the switchback and also stay in the compact part of the pavement. It’s harder and has less rolling resistance. One of those little things that can make a difference over a lot of miles. Look ahead where you’re going, keeping you lower back straight and keeping your eyes on the road ahead.
- Respond to accelerations slower on climbs. Don’t panic, respond slowly, avoiding a large sudden increase in heart rate. The faster you accelerate, the quicker lactic acid forms, so attempt to keep the heart rate as steady as possible.
- Practical experience- You become a better climber by going out to the hills and climbing. The more you learn about your style and technique, the more you will be able to succeed in races or events that are important to you. An attitude of “taking on the hill” is so important. Take the challenge and overcome it!
The two components essential in climbing (and most of cycling) is aerobic capacity (ability to improve your ability to process oxygen) and power. There are many different workouts that you can do to improve. I will give an example of one that focuses on aerobic capacity and another that addresses more power oriented climbing:
- Long 20 min climb with an average gradient of 4-6% or indoor trainer, with the front wheel propped up 2 inches or so
- 2 x 20 minutes with your HR in the first 10 minutes in the medium endurance range, about a 5/10 on a rate of perceived exertion (PRE). The second 10 minutes, accelerate up to your lactate threshold (LT) (7-8/10). Keep the cadence in the 90+ range.1 x 20 min, alternating 5m of ME (5/10) with 1 minute of all out effort (9-10/10), then recovering back to the ME range and repeating. Also keep the cadence in the 90+ range.
- Climb of 5 – 10 minutes with an average gradient of 6-7% or an indoor trainer with the front wheel propped up 2 inches.
- 3 x 5+ minutes with your HR in the 6-7/10 on a perceived rate of exertion, with a cadence of 65-70rpm, alternating sitting and standing. During the last 30 seconds of the rep, accelerate in a bigger gear.
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